Non-Nutritive Sucking Habits


On a daily basis, I get asked by parents when is the best time to stop a pacifier or thumb-sucking habit.  As we all know, it is normal for most babies to use a pacifier or thumb as a self-soothing mechanism from an early age, even in utero!  However, there does come a point where these habits can actually be deleterious to the developing dentition and palate.  The upper arch can become narrowed, the upper teeth can flare and the lower teeth can tip backwards.  As a consequence, the AAPD recommends encouraging your child to stop the habit by age three, if possible.  Of course, there are some children who are just not ready at this age, and that is okay.  As the parent, you know your child best so you should use your best judgement on when and how to stop the habit.  For tips and tricks on stopping your child’s habit, see below:

Thumb Sucking:

Mavala stop: nail polish with a foul taste can be a useful reminder.
Bandaid: reminder to stop sucking.
Thumb Guard: physically prevents thumb sucking.
Reward System: star charts with age appropriate rewards can be a great aid!


Cut the tip of the pacifier which reduces the suction effect. This usually creates enough of a difference that the child won’t want to use the paci anymore.

Give the pacifiers away to the “Binky Fairy” or to newborn siblings/nieces/nephews.

Try trading the binky for a new special toy of your child’s choice.


Dr. Kathleen McCafferty
Pediatric dentist, Bedford and Needham offices

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